A few weeks back I reached out to a few dozen PR / marketing / communication professionals; asking them about their first step into the industry, their career paths and what type of advice they’d give to aspiring students or people wanting to make a transition.
Fortunately, my emails weren’t totally ignored – quite the contrary actually – and I received overwhelming responses from the professionals in UK, United States and of course, Australia.
So before I start, I’d first like to thank Clare English, Mohnish Prasad, Paul Seaman, Todd Defren, Sean Williams, Stephen Waddington, Theresa Bui, Mark Pinsent, Craig Pearce, Andrew Smith, Paul Roberts and Mandi Bateson. Everybody contributed more than enough for this blog post and I believe their advice will be invaluable for anyone interested in the PR / marketing / communications industry.
I’m currently studying for my PR degree and I think as a student, the most daunting task is taking your first step into the industry, especially these days when the communications industry is moving so fast and the simple process of applying for a vacant position is no longer enough.
Reading the responses from the people I interviewed, it’s clear that getting into the PR industry is increasingly getting more and more difficult, you’ve got to learn how to reach out and network like crazy, adapt your writing skills to the online environment, learn how to use a range of media platforms, not to mention keeping abreast with relevant social media, current affairs and technological updates. But hey, if it was easy, everybody would be trying to get into this super cool profession right?
1. MOHNISH PRASAD | Business Development Manager | Jump On It
As a Business Development Manager at Jump On It, Mohnish is a prime example of an unpredictable career trajectory. Initially interested in television production, he worked on short films and advertising campaigns as a production assistant. However, Mohnish started developing an interest for sales and marketing and after completing his Advanced Diploma in Advertising and Media Studies, he landed a role at Sensis Pty Ltd working in the White Pages sales department.
During his first year Mohnish was made Senior Account Manager in charge of retaining and upselling clients with a portfolio of over $2.4 million in annual revenue and after 2 years, was promoted to a Sales Management role where he was “responsible for looking after a multi-state sales territory and delivering the targets in each of our market areas.” Currently, Mohnish is working for Jump On It, one of the largest group buying organisations in Australia, connecting “social marketing with businesses and helping them utilise our massive Facebook community to deliver them booming sales results from new markets they have never tapped before.”
2. CLARE ENGLISH | Business Development Director | Speed Communications
Clare is currently the Business Development Director at Speed Communications (UK). She initially chose a career in public relations because she fancied working publishing or journalism and she was lucky enough to develop a work placement opportunity into a full-time position at PR agency in London. She spent 4 years there before hopping over to healthcare division at a mid-size agency then settling down at BMA Communications as an account executive.
In 2009, after BMA Communications merged with 2 other agencies to form Speed Communications, Clare was made business development director and put in charge of promoting the company to potential clients. Her present role is a combination of sales, marketing, PR and she’s responsible for “managing new business pitches, advising on programme strategy, and helping to ensure that our business is developing both financially and from a culture and service perspective.”
3. TODD DEFREN | Principal | SHIFT Communications
As the Principal at SHIFT Communications, Todd Defren has undergone major transitions throughout his career. He started out with a part-time job at a local newspaper, creating events calendar, before scoring the gig-of-a-lifetime “writing press releases at a multi-billion dollar company in New York.” Todd rose through the business and within 2 years, he was managing a lot of the PR activities. After moving to another organisation in Boston, he was made VP within 5 years, and eventually, along with a few colleagues bought out the company and re-named it SHIFT Communications.
4. SEAN WILLIAMS | CEO | Communication AMMO, Inc.
Sean Williams admits that he got into the “PR / communications profession a little by accident.” Sean was in KeyCorp’s management associate training program when he spent about a year working in a corporate relations office. After finishing the training program and becoming a bank branch manager, Sean discovered that he missed the communications side and became a communications manager at KeyBank.
From there, he was made executive communications manager at the corporate HQ, got promoted to VP and then senior communications manager, but then decided to leave KeyBank for a small communications consultancy where he “trained literally thousands of managers and conducted strategic planning sessions, sparking my interest in being an educator.” After a couple of jobs at Goodyear – manager of internal communications and editorial services – Sean founded his own consultancy in 2009 and began teaching at Kent State University, where he still there to this day.
5. MARK PINSENT | Head of Digital | Shine Communications
Mark Pinsent has been involved with PR agencies for about 18 years now – not bad for a guy who started out studying Computer Science at university right? After completing his studies, Mark travelled for a few months before realising marketing was something he was interested in. On the advice of his father’s friend, he wrote to over 100 companies in search of a job and managed to land some work experience at a small PR agency. It was from there where Mark developed invaluable experience and gave him the confidence to approach bigger and more established agencies. It turns out that his “practical experience in PR allied to my degree in computer science was irresistible” to employers and he found himself as an Account Executive at Text 100 – UK’s leading tech PR agency at the time. After spending the next 8 years “working with some great clients” and beginning a freelance career, Mark is now the head of digital at Shine Communications.
6. ANDREW SMITH | Director | escherman
Like a lot of PR professionals, Andrew Smith began his career working as a journalist. Back in the day, Andrew thought PR stood for “proportional representation,” and he had no idea “entire industry existed to provide me with information to help me write my stories.” Not to mention his boss at the time distrusted the PR profession, advising Andrew to “avoid having to deal with a PR person as much as possible.” Funny how things turned out huh? Andrew went to work for a small PR firm “interviewing major international publishing figures as a journalist to sourcing plastic cool boxes for a client promotion in my first week in PR.”
Following his passion for technology, Andrew then moved to another PR agency as a tech specialist, managing clients like Borland International. The next few years after that, he went through a range of PR tech and management roles; started up his own marketing communications agency and for his latest venture “founded escherman as a specialist online PR, social media, search and analytics consultancy.”
7. PAUL ROBERTS | Communications Professional | Davies Murphy Group
Paul Roberts is another PR professional who got his start as a journalist. After completing an associate degree in journalism, Paul was “offered a number of positions with local newspapers – making an hourly wage that wouldn’t pay for my gas money.” His dreams of making a decent living writing for a newspaper evaporated in that moment. Paul went back to school, graduated with a degree in communications and found a couple of jobs in the Boston area working with B2B high technology PR agencies. Skip to present day, 15 years later, Paul’s worked at countless agencies, a couple of side corporate gigs, has his own blog http://paulrobertspr.com/ and found himself “with a ton of good experience and a career path I never expected.”
8. MANDI BATESON | Digital Director | Hill & Knowlton
After high school Mandi enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts (Creative Arts) where she majored in writing and theatre. Despite her passion for her majors, she found herself disillusioned with uni life and ended up deferring her degree. From there, she moved into retail and hospitality which took her all over the world –Snowy Mountains, London and Stratford-upon-Avon – and discovered her love for promotions at a restaurant she worked at.
Soon after, Mandi went through a couple of marketing / events coordinator roles and learnt everything she could about “CRM/database management; trade media relations; web design, maintenance and copy; DM and eDM campaign management; advertising creative, planning and buying; event management; sales lead generation – you name it, I did it.” Mandi is now the digital director at Hill & Knowlton (Sydney) and gets to combine her passion with her career and sums up the role as “creating engaging campaigns where the audience is active and receptive.”